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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 30 Jul 1970

Vol. 68 No. 17

Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill, 1970: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: " That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Unfortunately, Senator McDonald, who was speaking at the adjournment yesterday is unavoidably absent. We are quite willing to allow a Member from the other side to speak at this stage. If no member of the oppositions offers a member of our own party will speak.

Like other Senators I welcome this Bill and congratulate the Minister and his officials for introducing it. I listened with interest to a number of the speeches made yesterday, especially the speech made about the opportunities available to young people in industry. As a person who has been very much involved in industry over the past few years I welcome the section which states that facilities available in one school will be made available to schools in other areas.

I have been concerned with recruiting apprentices for various trades in industry and on many occasions I was alarmed at the material made available to people from which to make a choice. I feel this section will play an important role here. I always felt it was a great pity to have to turn down people who did not have the necessary qualifications to take on an apprenticeship. I believe this was largely due to our education system. Senator Brosnahan mentioned a place where there were three different schools, which could be described as new schools, yet the facilities available in one school were not available to the pupils attending the other schools.

I have referred to the position which existed four or five years ago but within the last 12 months things have improved considerably. This is probably due to the fact that free education is now the order of the day and therefore education is available to all.

A number of speakers referred to the part played by secondary schools prior to the free education scheme. I would like to refer to some private schools which have operated here in Dublin. I am referring in particular to one in my own area which was inaugurated by a family who have been very much associated with education over the years and who have played a very important role in all aspects of Irish life. People such as these have played an important role in the education of the less well off children. Now that we have free education I hope these people will benefit considerably. I hope the Minister will look into their position to see that the facilities available in other schools might be available to these private schools also. Anyone doing a good job in the field of education and particularly people who have devoted their lives to providing education for the less well off should be helped.

Mention was made of large schools. A large size unit is now generally accepted as being a necessary prerequisite to proper education. I would like to refer to this from the point of view of planning. I notice that in Dublin a new school was sanctioned, building has commenced and may possibly take 12 to 18 months to complete, but there is provision for the erection of many prefabricateds to cater for the number of pupils. From figures available at the present moment in the planning section of the Department of Education it should be possible to cater for the number of pupils who would be attending in future years. At present schools are built and just as they are about to open prefabricated classrooms are provided to cater for some of the pupils. Thought should be given to this. I compliment the Minister on introducing this Bill.

I welcome this Bill. It gives legal sanction to practices which have been going on already. A member of the Government has spoken to me on this subject and we agreed that this Bill probably gives legal sanction to what in fact has been in progress for some years. I welcome this Bill because of the interchange between post-primary educational facilities. The buildings used for post-primary education can be interchanged. For instance where there is a science building in a small town and where there are a technical school and a secondary school it would cost the State too much money to build a second science laboratory, so there should be interchange of pupils between the schools in using that science building.

While I welcome this Bill I am sorry we have not had an opportunity of dealing with education as a whole. The emphasis is on taking things out of context and discussing them. In my view all branches of education are interrelated. We should deal with primary, post-primary and university education and try to see how these could fit into the future policy on education. The President of UCD said recently that there would have to be some restriction on places in the university. I am sure the same applies to Trinity College. The President mentioned restrictions in certain faculties and disciplines which have not been subject to restriction up to now. It is a pity that we could not have a full debate on education in this House. We cannot do justice in speaking about one aspect of education alone. Vocational education is part of our education, as Senator Mrs. Farrell said, which deals with the crafts. It is highly desirable that certain children of certain parents should get education in crafts. Some children may not be fitted for what I might term the mental side of education. They may be more adept with their hands and the craft side of education rather than the mental side of it might be more suitable for them. Yearly the craft side of education is becoming more important. I support the Senator on this aspect. I support this Bill in general. I am sorry in view of what the President of UCD said and in view of the other things occurring which will inevitably change our outlook that we have not had an opportunity of discussing education more broadly than we are doing today.

I dtosach báire fáiltím roimh an mBille seo. Táim sásta gur Bille tabhachtach é agus go gcabhróidh sé le cur ar aghaidh cúrsaí gairmoideachais sa tír seo.

Even the most ardent opponents of the Government must agree that considerable progress has been made in this country during the last number of years. If we were to give a prize to the Department that has made the greatest impact in this development and in this progress that prize would go to the Department of Education which has come forward so much in such a short time. I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few brief words on vocational education because I feel that this is a model system of education, a system that recognises neither class nor creed, a system where the rich and the poor, Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian are all treated alike. I certainly would like to see that if the other branches of education, primary and secondary, are to be improved they too would be modelled on these lines. I hope that the day is not too far distant when primary schools, vocational schools and secondary schools are modelled alike, and that in all three branches class or creed will not be a factor and children of all denominations will be given an opportunity of growing up together. In this part of the country this may not be of so much importance, but in the northern half both inside the Six Counties and outside it I feel that if we had a system of education similar to the vocational system on both sides of the Border we would not have had the same fears, the same suspicions as exist there at the present time.

There is just one aspect of this that I would like to speak about and that is the hope expressed in this Bill that there would be co-operation between secondary and vocational education. The word "snobbery" has been mentioned here a few times and yesterday I heard Senator McElgunn emphatically deny that it exists.

With respect to the Chair, I did not deny that it existed but I questioned as to where it lay.

That is correct. I am sorry. Though I certainly would not say that snobbery is encouraged by the Secondary Teachers' Association nevertheless I do say that it exists as far as some secondary teachers are concerned. I myself at one of the preliminary meetings dealing with amalgamations several years ago heard a headmaster state that his teachers would not teach in a technical school. While this attitude, thank God, is not very common, there is evidence that it exists and that some secondary teachers consider the vocational school an inferior institution.

The Minister is aware, I think, of the threat to some vocational schools in the West Donegal Gaeltacht as a result of the encroachment of secondary schools, and the teachers in some of these technical schools fear that they are not getting the co-operation from the secondary school that they should get and that they deserve. They fear that their school, particularly the comparatively new school in Gortahork, is in danger of being closed down completely, and this threat has become prominent since apparently the Department has agreed in principle to allow engineering classes in the secondary school in Falcarragh. It is quite possible that there are no grounds for these fears but, at this stage, before the Department allows classes of this kind in a secondary school, if there is any danger of the vocational system being wiped out in a Gaeltacht area, they should have second thoughts, because the technical school particularly in a Gaeltacht area is of much greater importance than the secondary school, and there are many children who may not have the academic qualifications to pursue other subjects in a secondary school but who could become extremely good tradesmen as a result of attending a vocational school.

I would appeal to the Minister to have this matter very closely examined. If there are no dangers to Gortahork and, indeed, Derrybeg technical schools then he could let this be known to the authorities there. If he does this I feel that will satisfy the teachers and parents in that locality.

Miss Bourke

I should like to welcome this Vocational Education Bill, and I do so more warmly because it has given this House an opportunity of expressing the views held by various Senators on education. Some people were astonished that a Bill so brief, with only two sections, one enabling and one mandatory, and a Short Title, could give rise to a debate of this length. I think that the reason for this is that there is a genuine concern and desire by Senators to have a Bill relating to education used as a stimulus for giving their ideas on this subject. I certainly welcome this, and it has been a most interesting debate. I would like to congratulate the Minister on providing the possibility for vocational education committees to come out of the straitjackets in which they were under the Vocational Education Acts and to be empowered to co-operate with other schools in the ways set out in section 1 of the Bill.

I note that the Minister has reserved for himself a certain power at both ends of the spectrum. Co-operation between committees will only be with the consent of the Minister and the enabling clause itself is vague. This is as it should be. It states: "at such terms and conditions as may be agreed between the parties". It is possible that the wording should be vague because it will vary according to areas, according to the type of co-operation being sought, according to whether it is hoped to use joint science laboratories or to contribute to assembly halls.

I noticed that some Senators seemed sceptical as to whether this will lead to genuine co-operation between vocational education committees and secondary school managements. What we must do is hope for co-operation and provide the facilities for it. Then we can generate an atmosphere in which there is genuine use of scarce resources. This is particularly true of the west where I come from and where this type of joint user of scarce resources would be of immense benefit to the community. I therefore welcome the open-ended nature of the clause. Again, the Minister has control in that this relates only to schools which may be recognised by the Minister for this purpose.

The reasoning behind the Bill has been analysed by the Minister and by Senators who have spoken. It provides for the type of co-operation which we should seek at all educational levels, which is being done at university level not through a merger but through co-operation, in relation to the use of facilities and manpower to the fullest possible extent and a getting away from rigid thinking in regard to education.

Therefore, I hope this enabling measure will lead to co-operation between vocational education committees and secondary school managements. Then it will be up to the people around the country to see that the provisions of this Bill are availed of and that what is mainly an enabling Bill becomes a reality. As I said, I welcome the Bill.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús buíochas a ghlacadh leis na Seanadóirí a chuir fáilte roimh an mBille. Gidh go bhfuil sí beag, tá sí iontach tábhachtach. I dtír bheag mar seo, gan móran maoine, ba cheart dúinn gach úsáid a bhaint as an mhaoin atá againn. Is anseo a thagann comh-oibriú isteach. Cuideoidh sé linn an toradh is fearr a fháil as na nithe atá againn, as na múinteoirí agus as na gléasanna oideachais atá ar fáil.

I should like to express my thanks to the Senators for the co-operative way in which they spoke. I think it was Senator Russell who said that perhaps the Members of the Seanad were somewhat loquacious in regard to this discussion. As far as I am concerned, I am very anxious to get the views of all Members of the Seanad on all aspects of our educational policy. We are living in a rapidly changing world and I think it is true to say that no aspect is changing as rapidly as education.

Therefore, it is essential that in my efforts to formulate policy I should have the views of all Members of the House and I am grateful for the manner in which Senators spoke, for the encouraging way in which they spoke, on this Bill. The policy of seeking co-operation between the various type schools is aimed at providing the advantage of comprehensive education in each post-primary centre by making the most efficient use of the facilities available to us, in teachers, in equipment, in buildings and so on and by offering the widest possible choice of subjects at leaving certificate level.

I am particularly concerned with the situation in smaller towns and in rural areas. I shall give an example. We find that in many of our smaller towns very often we have three post-primary schools, a convent, a brothers' school and a vocational school. One I have in mind has about 140 pupils in each of the three schools. Working independently, it is very difficult for a small school such as one of those to provide the wide range of subjects necessary to develop the wide range of abilities of the children attending such a school; but with the proper type of co-operation between the schools we would have 420 children in a unit composed of the three schools and we could provide in such an instance a very much wider range of subjects and we could offer what I should like to offer, not only free education but equality of opportunity as well.

In practice, co-operation has already worked in a number of ways. It can work in an elementary way by the exchange of teachers and the use of a facility such as a science room or the provision of woodwork instruction for secondary schools boys in a vocational school. In a more advanced way co-operation would mean the sharing of a common block of specialised facilities, the sharing of assembly halls and gymnasia.

This may be what Senator Belton was referring to when he said he had been informed that what was contained in the Bill was already in operation. In fact, this has been on the current expenditure side—it was possible to operate on the current expenditure side but not on the capital side, which is what we are legislating for here. This proposed amendment will give the committees legal authority to co-operate with other post-primary school authorities and to incur expenditure in so doing. Up to the present, it has been possible to enable expenditure to be incurred by vocational education committees out of current moneys to be utilised in the furtherance of their schemes, but they cannot as the law stands enter into commitments involving capital expenditure. This Bill will enable them to do so. They will be in a position not only to co-operate in relation to the provision of teaching services but in regard to the purchase of building land, of sites for playing fields, et cetera. For instance, if a vocational committee could contribute portion of the cost of acquiring a site they could become joint owners of the site and it would be a matter for local negotiation to apportion the cost.

Reference was made to the flexibility in the Bill. I deliberately left it flexible because if we were to have a rigid system we would find that in many local areas it would not be possible to get agreement. I am therefore leaving it to the various areas to come to their own decisions as to how they can best co-operate and I will then consider whatever proposals they put to me. In regard to the management the position in relation to a few schools where agreement has already been reached is that the management would consist of representatives of vocational education committees and of the other school authorities with the local bishop as chairman.

Another matter raised was the question of the allocation of teaching staff in the vocational schools for 1970-71. There is a considerable amount of misunderstanding in relation to this. The staffing allocation now proposed by us for vocational schools is, to say the least, generous. We are proposing a pupil-teacher ratio which it is not hoped to reach in Scotland until 1975-76 and I think everyone will agree that Scotland is regarded as being far advanced educationally. Our allocation takes account not only of whole-time day classes but also of part-time and evening classes including, of course, the courses in adult education. When we were sending out the circular we indicated that we were prepared to consider on an ad hoc basis the case of any school in which particular difficulties or particular problems arose. All I would ask of all concerned is that they should examine carefully our proposals before pronouncing on them.

I was asked also about the local authority contribution. As Senators are aware the present legal position is the one that has been in operation for a number of years whereby the maximum contribution from a local authority towards vocational education is 24d in the £. This contribution has for a long time been taken up by all committees with the exception of one which operates a comparatively small scheme. The vastly increased expenditure to date has been met by way of supplementary grants from my Department. Those Senators who are members of vocational education committees will be aware of this.

Senator Keery mentioned as did also Senator Bourke my control in relation to local co-operation. The position is that the educational and financial schemes of the vocational education committees are subject to the approval of the Minister under the Acts. Major developments in the field of co-operation would also require the approval of the Minister but there is no intention of entering into unnecessarily detailed examination of all co-operative arrangements. I have dealt, then, in a general way with most of the queries posed by Senators.

Miss Bourke

May I ask the Minister if he was talking about existing schemes for joint management when he mentioned that the chairman would be the bishop?

Yes, where agreement had been reached.

Miss Bourke

So that this is not a necessary pre-condition?

No. We already have co-operation among schools in a few areas but not in nearly as many as I would wish.

Which bishop will be the chairman?

The local one.

May I ask the Minister if he would indicate whether he would encourage the setting up of a committee embracing the interests concerned, vocational education, lay and religious secondary, and so on, to encourage this type of co-operation at local level?

I shall have to think about that to see whether it would be efficacious.

Surely that would be in line with the policy of decentralisation?

The Senator can be assured that I will examine every aspect of this because I am anxious to have as much co-operation as possible.

During the course of my few remarks I mentioned areas where there are a primary and vocational school but where there is no secondary school. Therefore, some facilities such as gymnasia, playing fields and so on would not be available in the area. In such cases I was wondering if it might be possible to make arrangements with local clubs—tennis clubs and such—who would have a hall or gymnasium and who would be willing to rent it to vocational education committees on the same basis as an arrangement that can be made with secondary schools.

We are encouraging this.

Could the vocational education committees make a contribution?

I shall have to examine that aspect of it.


We cannot have an unlimited number of questions on this.

I overlooked Senator Russell's question.

My question related to the reconstitution of the Limerick City Vocational Education Committee.

I propose to take early steps to set up the machinery to reconstitute that vocational education committee. The procedure will be the normal procedure.

There has been some suggestion that this might be done on a regional basis.

Not in relation to this particular matter.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.